Christianity in Light of Modern Warfare

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Written by Leanna Westerhof. DM by Caitlyn Campbell.

I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Ben Wayman, Assistant Professor of Theology this past week and discuss modern warfare in light of Christianity. Like many of you, I have no experience with war. My thoughts consisted of: “War is bad, but perhaps sometimes necessary. And killing is terrible.” But I have always had great respect and admiration for veterans who have sacrificed their lives and safety for this country. However, as I learn more about my faith and Christianity I begin to question things about war. I learned from Dr. Wayman that the classical two stances Christians take are the Just War Theory and Nonviolent Pacifism. Just War Theory was started by St. Augustine in the late 400’s and nonviolence we get from the life of Jesus. Most Christians today follow neither classical traditions. So how does modern warfare affect our view on war today in light of Christianity? This is what I wanted to discuss with Wayman. As technologies develop and the way we engage in war adapting and changing how as Christians do we live and proclaim the gospel?

As Christians, we should be very hesitant and cautious about war.  Particularly, we should be a lot more critical in the way we engage in war. With biochemicals, nuclear weapons, and drone warfare, modern war has become a breeding ground for mass homicide. The loss of human life should affect us a lot more as Christians than it is. We weep for those who die from hunger and disease, but what about those who die in war? And possibly a war that was not just? Our faith and beliefs should influence us in thinking about war and the morality behind it. In today’s society, it is easy to blend our patriotism and our faith. In my opinion, Christianity is radical in the face of war. In my conversation with Wayman we discussed Christians who enter the military and the role of the Church in war. His answers are not the popular answers you would expect. He says our country has beaten us to the “punch line”. He elaborates that the Church has not been imaginative and aggressive enough in the face of war and the cost of discipleship. Don’t misunderstand: he doesn’t say being a Christian and going into the military is wrong. Rather, he says the military upholds a lot of Christian virtues such as laying your life down for another and courage, but the Church also upholds these values and has failed to make its body realize the adventure and risks of being a Christian and follower of Jesus.

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I would argue that modern warfare has made war easy when it should not be. Dr. Wayman points out in the Middle Ages when Christians came back from war they were made to serve penance for taking human lives. Killing is hugely problematic to the Christian faith and is lost on Christians today. “For all of the lip service Christians give to being pro-life, we are not.” War has become an “us versus them”, with “us” always being the good guys. What about Hiroshima and Hagasaki? What about the fire bombings of Dresden? The United States is not a Christian nation and hasn’t kept to these criteria we see in the Just War theory. The United States was not born with the gospel’s intentions in mind. If this was true, we wouldn’t have enslaved African Americans and beaten down the Native Americans and taken their land from them, though the Bible was used in defense of these acts.  The American flag should not be above the Christian flag. And Wayman says, “We need to untangle the flag in our faith in this matter.” War is about willingly dying for something greater than yourself. We must ask ourselves the question, “What are we willing to die for?” Are we willing to follow Jesus to the cross? Dr. Wayman invites students to think about what they are willing to die for. He proposes that the Church as failed to see war in the light of the gospel.

In light of this revelation that Wayman is bringing to the table, I think as Americans seem to be okay with drone warfare and the development of modern warfare. It helps keep us as Americans safe and helps keep our soldiers from dying on the battlefield for something they might not agree with. Nonetheless, as Christians, our paradigm should be radically different. We should see our enemies as children of God and those non-combatants who die in the midst of war as our brothers and sisters who are dying because of some shallow belief by their governments and countries. They aren’t dying for Jesus. They are casualties of war.

“I know that Christians will become unglued in hearing something like that, that seems to be such a degradation of our country. But I think that we need not be so defensive, we need to honestly reflect on the way in which we have made this country an idol.”


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